The winner of the Haifa Film Festival’s best Israeli documentary, “Underground Ballet,” tells the story of Nadya, a Russian-Israeli who runs a classical ballet studio beneath the crowds of cheering fans in Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium. The daughter of Russian prima ballerina Nina Timofeyeva, Nadya describes how her mother made her way to Jerusalem for spiritual reasons but ended up struggling professionally.
Without any other means of supporting herself, her mother was inspired by the lack of an Israeli ballet scene to open her own studio. Nadya now runs the intensive ballet studio started by her mother, full of young Israeli girls and boys who train for years to perform and win prestigious competitions.
The documentary follows the lives and training of the ballerinas studying under Nadya. Some have been through struggles and found respite in the world of ballet. One girl is worried about having to go to the army because she won’t be able to continue her ballet training.
Though ballet does exist in Israel, it is not a friendly place for dancers, according to Nadya. Jerusalem is described as “anti-ballet” and if you want to make a living dancing, you’ll have to go abroad. Beneath the focus on precision and beauty runs an undercurrent of heartbreak as the dancers struggle to make it.
The documentary shows in jarring contrast the crowded and loud stadium juxtaposed against the beauty and structure of the dancers in the studio just underneath it. And it pits the reality and tragedy of the financial and societal struggle to maintain the studio with the elegant intensity of the ballerinas under Nadya’s instruction. It is unclear whether or not her mother’s dream of creating a thriving Israeli ballet scene will succeed, but the dedication of the dancers will undoubtedly continue.